What is exfoliation and does it have any tangible benefits? The principle of skin exfoliation is one of the most basic and simple components of skincare that have been around since the Ancient Egyptians and is still one of the most effective skincare practices today.

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin from the skin's surface. How this benefits the skin requires some basic understanding of how the skin is formed. Called the skin cycle, skin is constantly in the process of renewal. Skin cells are produced at the lower layers of the epidermis and travels to the visible surface of the skin. It takes from 14 to 28 days for new skin to reach the surface, where they die and shed from the skin, to be replaced by newer cells that rise to the surface. Most of the visible skin is composed of dead cells which are tough and help protect you. This skin is quickly and constantly replaced by newer skin cells that replace the old skin as they shed off the surface, keeping the skin tone even and healthy.

Unfortunately, starting as early as age 25, the process of renewal slows. This means that uneven skin tone, dullness, and rough texture are some of the symptoms that can be seen quite early. These can be worsened by other environmental factors like pollution, lack of sleep or poor diet. What exfoliation does is remove the excess dead skin cells from the surface of the skin so that new fresh skin cells can replace them faster. Some of the potential benefits of exfoliation include:

  • Improved skin tone balance
  • Smoothness at the surface of the skin
  • Reduction of minor wrinkles and fine lines
  • Unclogs pores
  • Rejuvenates your skin

How do I exfoliate?

There are many different ways to exfoliate, but they can roughly be divided into two general strategies: Mechanical and Chemical. Mechanical exfoliation involves physically scrubbing the skin with an abrasive like pumice stones, scrubs, sponges, brushes, or micro-beads. Microdermabrasion is another example of a popular mechanical procedure that can be done at a spa, clinic or dermatologist's office. Chemical exfoliation is the use of mainly acidic ingredients to chemically peel off the outer skin to produce the same effect. They can vary widely in ingredients, strengths, and costs. Over the counter products using alpha hydroxyl acids are very popular, and helps loosen the material that holds cells together at the surface. Stronger chemical peels can have a bigger impact, but require visiting a dermatologist, and may have a longer recovery time.

How often should I exfoliate?

Exfoliation can help make the skin smoother and softer, something we all want during the summer. There is such a thing as over-exfoliating though. Dryness of the skin, irritation, and redness are some possible signs that the skin has been exfoliated too much. Remember that the goal of exfoliation is simply to remove the oldest dead layer of the skin from the surface, and not to rip perfectly healthy new skin off of the surface while the cells underneath are still underdeveloped. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when exfoliating:

  • Skin on the face is thin and delicate. Be gentle when exfoliating the face.
  • Mechanical exfoliation using scrubs and brushes are particularly abrasive. These should be limited to once or twice a week.
  • Use circular motions when exfoliating, and don't over apply pressure.
  • Chemical exfoliation products can be used on a daily basis.
  • If your skin has become red, irritated, or over-sensitive, it's time to put the brakes on exfoliating.

Chemical peels and microdermabrasion is a form of exfoliation that is performed by a specialist.